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Measuring Success in Border Protection: Effectiveness vs Efficiency

(A section of border fence indicating the international border between Mozambique and South Africa. This fence is 100% maintained by South Africa, and is mostly dilapidated. Due to the difficult terrain and perseverance by criminal syndicated operating from Mozambique to South Africa, this border is just as challenging to protect as the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa).

In our previous article Maritime Piracy and Illegal Fishing in Africa: A South African Case Study, we briefly touched the subject of Border Protection within a greater Area Defense Operations strategy with various references to the terms “effectiveness” and “efficiency” as fundamental requirements for achieving success. Based on feedback received, we have decided to elaborate more on the two requirements for better understanding.

At present, 27 of the 54 UN recognized states in Africa are engaged in some form of conflict or violence induced human insecurity, and current short- to medium term outlook for Africa in terms of achieving stability is not favourable (Read: The Great Power Competition: How does it affect Africa?). South Africa is also struggling to control the large influx of refugees and victims of failed governance originating from nearly half of the African continent north of its borders, the most prominent sources of illegal immigration and cross-border crime being Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Looking beyond Africa, the United States is also struggling to effectively control illegal immigration, cross-border smuggling of wholesale arms and narcotics, and rapidly increasing incidence of human trafficking being considered more profitable than narcotics trafficking. The US scenario is not unique, and basically the main causes for this phenomenon are very much similar to the South African borders dilemma, the only difference being that failed governance in mainly Central America and South-America (mainly Venezuela) are fuelling the US borders crisis. To counter this increase in illegal immigration, the US has an agreement with Mexico to limit the influx of illegal immigrants through its territory to the US from mainly Guatemala, which in turn is creating security problems for the Mexican authorities due to increased occurrence of crime and cartels exploitation which is further complicated by the fact that these undocumented migrants enjoy a form of protected status to do as they wish without legal consequences while in Mexican territory.

(A section of border fence between the US and Mexico at El Paso, Texas. This fence is also inconsistent in design, in some areas being of poorer design quality gradually falling into disrepair due to budget cuts. The greater US border protection strategy is also lacking in effectiveness and efficiency from a CONOPS perspective for similar reasons as found in Africa).

Looking further at Africa, the majority countries do not have any form of border protection strategies fitting within a greater Area Defense plan, why armed criminal gangs and terrorist groups have so much freedom of movement between conflict ridden countries. Where some countries do have some form of border protection strategy, these strategies are lacking, and as we have observed first hand, the two major requirements being neglected throughout Africa, including the US, is the proper understanding of the impact and relevance of ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ of operations. Basically, this is the process used by armed forces to convert resources into fighting power (combat), or operational results (non-combat).


This is the relationship between ‘expected results’ and ‘obtained results’. Therefore, in simple terms, the requirement to achieve ‘operational effectiveness’ is to achieve the ‘expected results’. Now, what is ‘expected results’ in terms of Border Protection? To effectively measure Operational Effectiveness, there should be achievable operational goals based on the following measurables:

Performance Indicators:

1. Capacity Indicators: This is the ratio between the amount (or quantity) that can be produced (or achieved) over a period of time for a specific occurrence. In terms of border protection this would imply that a deployed element (applied resources) must produce ‘X’ number of results during a fixed period of time (the review period, or reporting period), for instance a calendar month, adjusted to seasonal-, terrain- and environmental factors.

Example: For the period July 1-31, 2020, A Coy intercepted 400 undocumented migrants compared to an expected 800 target.

Based on this scenario, looking at operational effectiveness from a ‘capacity’ perspective, A Coy had a 50% operational effectiveness. Therefore, to improve ‘capacity’, the percentage of effectiveness needs to increase; and

2. Productivity Indicators: The ratio between results generated by the operation, and the resources used to achieve the results. In terms of border protection, there are two means of determining ‘productivity’ namely:

a. Financial: The simplest manner of achieving workable figures to measure ‘productivity’ is to convert

the total operational effort (resources) into a financial value over the same period as the

review/reporting period used to measure ‘capacity’.

Example: The total cost of operation for A Coy over the period July 1-31, 2020 was US$ 11 million to

achieve the result of 400 undocumented migrants intercepted within the A Coy AO (Area of Operations).

Based on this scenario, operational effectiveness from a ‘productivity’ perspective indicates that it cost

US$ 27,500 for every operational result achieved. In other words, it cost US$ 27,500 to intercept a

single undocumented migrant during the review period (note: this is a hypothetical explanation, not

based on real results). Therefore, to improve productivity, the financial value per unit of result must

decrease which is achieved by either increasing the ‘capacity’, or decreasing ‘operational efficiency’;

b. Manpower: This is an alternative method for calculating ‘productivity’.

Example: A Coy with a deployment strength of 155 soldiers for the review period within its assigned AO

intercepted 400 undocumented migrants. This equates to a manpower ‘productivity’ ratio of 2,58

successful interceptions per deployed soldier.

Achievable Results:

Now, based on the previously discussed performance indicators, we need to calculate the ‘expected result’ for an AO (Area of Operations) to accurately measure ‘operational effectiveness’. Expected results (operational target figure) is determined based on realistic intelligence estimates adjusted periodically, compared to analysis of historical figures derived from the following sources:

1. Actual intercepts year-on-year by monthly comparison to the same period the previous year within an AO as per 1st Filter (<1 km from international border baseline), and 2nd Filter (1-10 km from international border baseline) operations;

2. Results contained in Track Reports adjusted to successful intercepts to establish the difference in results (in other words, to establish the number of unsuccessful interceptions, namely, the ones who ‘slipped through the net’, within the same AO. As an example, three decades ago South African border fences had sensors which activated alarms upon breach which would then activate a QRF response. First light [foot] patrols along common crossing points would also indicate successful breaches through non-electrified / non-sensor equipped fences, as well as irregular night listening posts (LP) at common night crossing points. Track Reports activated QRF operations within the 2nd Filter for immediate follow-up and advance tracking. Track Reports would also be compiled for successful intercepts. At the end of the day, the difference between total number of new spoor observed vs successful intercepts for the day would provide measurable metrics for success; and

3. Comparison of data gathered by means of HUMINT (Human Intelligence) obtained through regular scheduled interaction with the whole community within a sub-unit’s assigned AO (farmers, farm workers, businesses, members of the public, etc) for the same period in review compared to Track Report data; and

4. Artificial adjustment of ‘expected results’ using the percentage of variance obtained from actual results year-on-year for the same review periods.

So, why are these ‘metrics’ important? Firstly, a sub-unit needs to be given operational targets to achieve during its operational deployment. Doing this generates a level of seriousness within the ranks, consequently increasing individual performance. These metrics are also critical requirements for measuring operational successes in terms of realistic metrics (and not by using the common ‘thumb-suck’ methodology), to enable constant review of tactics and procedures to improve successes and deterrence factor, while at the same time gaining public trust through visible decline in border related unlawful activities. Unfortunately, based on our observations ranging from the US/Mexico border to the South African borders with Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Swaziland, these metrics do not exist, or they are not applied effectively. The point is: If you cannot measure the successes of an operation, then you cannot identify the failures and weaknesses within the overall plan.


This is the relationship between ‘results achieved’ and ‘resources used’ to achieve the results. In other words: Optimum efficiency implies obtaining the best results using the least amount of resources. Therefore, we can say that efficiency is to be effective using the absolute minimum of resources to achieve the expected results while limiting wasteful expenditure. In terms of border protection this would imply reducing the ‘cost of operation’ by means of either:

1. Reducing salary expenses: Salary/wage expenditure can be limited by means of –

a. Reduction in the number of manpower allocation;

b. Reduction in salary rates.

2. Limiting high-cost expenses:

a. Cost of maintenance, fuel, infrastructure and rations;

b. Low logistical footprint;

c. Low-cost mobility options (in other words, limiting fuel burn as the highest cost item).

3. Accurate costs tracking:

a. Personnel: Salaries, Allowances, Mobilisation- and Demobilisation Costs, Non-Tactical Personnel

Movements, Training, Leave, Personnel Rotations, Discipline, etc;

b. Resources: Communications, Accommodation and Facilities, Rations, FOL, Depreciation of Assets,

Ammunition, Maintenance, Special Equipment, etc.

What we can derive from this metric is that the same rule applies to the military as in business, namely: “A dollar saved equals a dollar received”. Now, having mentioned ‘operational mobility’, we have noticed a common phenomenon along all problematic borders from Mexico, the United States, South Africa, and various other states in Africa, where a perception exists amongst border protection officials and soldiers alike where an increase in ‘mobility’ increases the concept of ‘moving around’ without a proper movement strategy, causing for an increase in cost of operations (consequently reducing efficiency). Within a military context, mobility is a commodity that should be well managed and regulated to the levels of operational necessity.


Within the context of border protection as a military operation, Operational Mobility refers to the capability to move forces and their associated logistic support quickly and effectively within an area of operations. Now that we have discussed operational effectiveness and operational efficiency as measurable metrics in terms of border protection, we also need to understand operational mobility as a major operational cost item which affects these metrics from various perspective. In other words, mobility can increase operational effectiveness if appropriately utilised, which in turn affects operational efficiency negatively from a costs perspective. Add to that the common occurrence of abuse under conditions of poor leadership and poor operational coordination, operational mobility can also lead to a decline in both operational effectiveness and operational efficiency. In short, operational mobility should be a well-planned and regulated resource to extract maximum value from its availability. In general, operational mobility in terms of border protection operations involve the following:

Air: Fixed Wind (ISR), Rotary Wing (C&C, QRF, Casevac).

Land: Patrol, Reconnaissance, QRF, Logistics, Command and Control, Medical.

The relevant defense readiness condition (DEFCON) applicable to the relevant area of operations based on the level of threat will determine which types of platforms would be most suitable (for instance: Under low threat conditions in uncontested airspace, with no expected ground based AA threat, light piston engine aircraft (COTS) would be suitable for airborne observation and coordination missions instead of costly turboprop powered ISR systems. Looking at ground application vehicles, light adapted commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) non-tactical vehicles are more efficient to operate and maintain compared to the high costs of operation associated with the use of specialised military vehicles. Incorporating own-forces tracking systems on vehicles also allows for improved oversight, control and coordination of deployed assets). However, one factor all commanders need to take into consideration in terms of operational mobility is not to be ‘too mobile’ which commonly affects operational effectiveness negatively due to the common human habit of ‘now we have vehicles, now we move around in these vehicles’. The US Army learnt this lesson in Afghanistan where it failed to dominate ground in Afghanistan due to the unintentional evolution of its tactical doctrines to patrolling roads in ‘self-propelled fortresses’. The result of this evolution was lesser boots on the ground, and more sleeping bums inside air conditioned armour protected seats. Mobility becomes a threat to operational effectiveness if incorrectly applied, especially considering consequent loss in situational awareness ‘when mobile’. Also, converting an operation to a ‘mobile solution’ is a guaranteed method of ensuring your foot-bound adversary maintains the advantage over you for the reason that he will always know where you are, but not the other way round.

Basically, the golden rule in terms of operational mobility during border protection- and area defense operations is that any form of transportation is but only a means of covering distance more rapidly than by foot, and it is not a means of dominating territory as a result of its design restrictions. Another example: Over the period 1994 - 2001 the SANDF (South African National Defence Force) experienced seriously restrictive budget cuts (still applicable in the present), and a rifle company would be considered privileged if it had at least 2x ISV’s (Infantry Squad Vehicles) available to support three rifle platoons deployed along a border front spanning around 100 km. So, what was the solution? Foot Patrols, Foot Patrols, Foot Patrols. In fact, the definition of mobility back then was determined by the distance you could cover by foot, each Platoon assigned an area of operations spanning between 30 - 35 km (by 1 km deep) within the 1st Filter area. Also, one of the main requirements for effective visual tracking leading to successful interception in difficult terrain is deployment by foot. The present SANDF situation has improved in terms of mobility, but at the expense of a major reduction in manpower from the minimum required 22x Rifle Companies to only 15x Rifle Companies. This factor highlights the main challenge with border protection economics, namely, if you wish to improve on one capability, you need to sacrifice another capability to sustain operational efficiency (in most cases not being a commodity of choice).

(A section of border wall between the US and Mexico between Tijuana and San Diego, California).


Border Protection operations are extremely complex, especially considering the high financial gains to the benefit of criminal syndicates and terrorist groups who specialize in the breaching of international borders for the purpose of trafficking in persons, narcotics, arms and other illicit activities. For military forces committed to border protection- and area defense operations, it is essential that a comprehensive strategy exists which is consequently interpreted into an operational plan to effectively and efficiently counter any illegal, undocumented and unregulated cross-border activities. Budgets are limited, and efficiency of effort ensures that operations are maintained within budget. The ADF recommendation is always to consider border protection- and the associated area defense operation as a Special Operations mission, for Special Operations Forces are the best skilled and equipped military forces to achieve both operational effectiveness and efficiency due to its inherent high level of training and tactical skills, reduced manning, and smaller logistical footprint (Read: Special Operations Forces and the 21st Century: How can it help Africa?)

However, what we need to take into consideration with all forms of military operations, whether the nature of the operation is combat or non-combat, is that the constraints that military organizations must overcome are both natural and political. Natural constraints include terrain, weather, time, local population, natural resources and the economic system. Political constraints refer to national political and diplomatic objectives, popular attitudes towards the military, civilian morale, and conditions of engagement. Resources, on the other hand, are assets that are important to the functioning of the military, namely: human and natural resources, industrial base, technical prowess, political capital, government structure, sociological characteristics, intellectual qualities of military leadership, and morale. If one of these various variables are negatively applied to the armed forces, effectiveness will decline, ultimately ending in the undesirable end-state of defeat.


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